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For whom alarm bells toll

A few weeks ago, before my recent holiday, I was contacted by an IFA who had been conned out of 12,200 by a fraudster. Forgive me if I do not name the adviser concerned here although I will come back to this later.

What basically happened is this. Back in May this year, the IFA concerned wanted to sell his car, a Lexus, for about 12,500. What he did was advertise the car locally and on eBay.

Almost immediately, the IFA was contacted by someone calling himself Kevin Barclay, who told the adviser that he was keen to buy the car as a surprise for his wife, to be presented at her 40th birthday party in Manchester.

It was shortly after this contact that warning bells should have started to ring. First, because Barclay informed the adviser that as a national training manager for Abbey, the bank group, he was never in the office and could only be contacted on his mobile as he travelled around the country. Fraud experts say that if you do not offer a landline number, which could subsequently be traced by police, some- thing smells wrong.

Another giveaway was the fact that Barclay’s official-looking email address came from Yahoo. Even his name was spelt wrongly: kevinbarcaly@abbeyasset manager.yahoo.co.uk. How many national trainers for a major financial institution would tolerate this?

That said, it also has to be made clear that Barclay used a sophisticated diversion strategy to earn our IFA’s trust. He asked a series of incredibly detailed questions about the car, colour, registration, engine and vehicle identification numbers, MOT status, whether there were outstanding HP agreements on it, remaining warranty period, seller’s proof of identity and so on. Finally, he even arranged for a friend of his, who he claimed lived in the IFA’s own town, to come and carry out an inspection of the vehicle to verify its condition, inside and out.

After this inspection, Barclay made an offer for less than the full amount, which after some haggling was agreed at 12,250. At this point, the buyer told the adviser that his friend would be collecting the car on a Saturday morning and payment would be made by bank draft to be handed over on the spot.

Here, the third alarm bell should have rung. Contrary to what this IFA believed, and many others also, a bank draft is not the equivalent of cash. As with any cheque, it can be forged, stolen or altered. More to the point, handing over a bank draft on a Saturday morning means it cannot be cashed until the following Monday, by which time the item may be thousands of miles away.

That is exactly what happened. The friend gave the IFA the bank draft, took the keys and drove off. The adviser banked his draft on the Monday and, believing it to be genuine, immediately transferred 10,000 of that amount by cheque into a separate savings account.

One week later, he received a letter from his bank telling him that the cheque from his current account had not been honoured because there were insufficient funds in it and was therefore being returned to him. In other words, the IFA’s bank was bouncing his cheque and invited him to contact customer services to discuss the matter.

It was at this point that the adviser discovered that he had been actually been a victim of a massive sting.

Why am I telling you this story? First, because of the bank. They tell me that the letter bouncing the adviser’s cheque was a perfectly valid way of telling him that he had been defrauded.

I take a different view on this. After all, what would have happened if he had already had more than 10,000 in his account at the time? The fraud would not have been discovered until he received his next monthly statement.

The second reason is the attitude of the IFA’s car insurer. When he claimed, he was told that a clause in his policy does not cover him for “loss or damage to the insured car by deception by a purchaser or agent”. The Financial Ombudsman Service tells me that such clauses are typical across the entire industry. If you are the victim of a con, no matter how sophisticated, you will not get a penny.

The third and most important reason for telling you his story is the adviser himself. Although I have not named him here, his details have appeared in one newspaper article I have written and may well feature in others.

Most people, certainly most IFAs, would be loath to go public on a story like this, fearing that they could be subject to ridicule. Yet this person is doing precisely the opposite. He wants people to know how he was ripped off, as a warning to others.

The IFA believes there are important lessons to be learned about the affair, in which even someone who might consider himself to be a financial expert can be conned out of substantial sums of money.

In spite of his misery and his loss, he is performing a vitally important service for hundreds of thousands of other people who might otherwise suffer the same fate at the hands of fraudsters. I salute his honesty and his courage.

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